The Boardman SLR 8.9 Carbon replaces the Road Team Carbon which is road.cc Road Bike of the Year 2017-18, and it's a lot of bike for £1,000. Every so often in this job you review a bike that makes you think, 'I'd happily ride this one day in, day out.' That's not entirely surprising when you're on a 10 grand superbike, but it's less common at the £1,000 mark. The Boardman SLR 8.9 is one of those bikes.
Of course, £1,000 represents a significant investment for most of us, but it's not stratospheric these days, and means the Boardman SLR 8.9 Carbon is accessible via most tax-free Cycle to Work schemes. The highlight is the new frameset, which is good news because that's the heart of any bike. The frame was developed with the use of CFD (computational fluid dynamics), the idea being to provide improved aerodynamic efficiency. You wouldn't call this a full-on aero road bike but you do get features designed to reduce drag. The down tube, seat tube and fork legs have truncated aerofoil profiles, meaning that the trailing edge is cut off square – a design technique that's widely used in the bike industry (and elsewhere).
We can't offer any assessment of aerodynamics, but I can tell you that the Boardman SLR 8.9 Carbon feels lively in use. You'll find lighter bikes out there at this price point – the £999 Giant Contend SL1 that we reviewed weighed 8.74kg, for instance, and the Specialized Allez Elite, also £999, was 8.77kg – but don't get too hung up on that. The SLR 8.9 Carbon offers a high level of stiffness for its price point. Okay, you'll probably notice a bit of frame flex if you absolutely hammer it in a quad-twanging sprint for a town sign, and a little from Boardman's own alloy tubeless-ready wheels, but that's about the extent of it. In general, the SLR 8.9 Carbon gives a good account of itself, standing firm when you launch into your best KOM efforts.
You get a tapered head tube that's home to a 1 1/8in upper bearing and a 1 1/2in lower bearing. This gives the front end a pretty solid feel that makes carving through the bends a whole lot of fun. You can smash it through the corners without the need to back off if things get vague.
The handling is quick but a way short of twitchy. You can manoeuvre yourself easily enough without any sense of skittishness. This is a bike that's simple to control – well, pretty much. I wouldn't say that the Tektro R315 long arm brakes, which have been specced to allow the use of mudguards and 28mm tyres, have quite the punch of Shimano equivalents. Don't get me wrong, they work fine, they just feel like they're lacking a little power when push comes to shove. One thing that surprised me about the SLR 8.9 Carbon is the level of comfort on offer here. I've ridden it loads over the past few weeks, including up the Col de la Madone in southeast France two or three times and the Col de Turini, and I've never given comfort a whole lot of thought. That's definitely a good thing because the only time I usually think about that ride quality is when it's missing.
One thing that surprised me about the SLR 8.9 Carbon is the level of comfort on offer here. I've ridden it loads over the past few weeks, including up the Col de la Madone in southeast France two or three times and the Col de Turini, and I've never given comfort a whole lot of thought. That's definitely a good thing because the only time I usually think about that ride quality is when it's missing. Boardman has dropped the seatstays on this model so that they meet the seat tube low down, while the seatpost is a slim 27.2mm in diameter and its clamping point is low – it's a wedge-type design in the top tube/seat tube junction. All of this helps to make for a reasonable amount of movement at the saddle; not so much that you bounce around when laying down the power, but enough to take the edge off holes and bumps in the road and to filter out a lot of vibration.
The saddle itself is made for Boardman by Velo, although the shape is reminiscent of that of a Fizik. Let's just say that the design looks as though it has been heavily influenced by the Antares. Saddles are always a matter of personal taste but I imagine that most people are going to get along with the generous amount of gel-feel padding on offer. The only thing that I'd really have preferred in terms of comfort would have been a larger diameter handlebar. Boardman's own alloy bar is a 31.8mm diameter at the clamp but slims down a lot from there. A chunkier bar would make for lower pressure on your hands... but that's a personal preference and I'm being picky. If you want to fit mudguards, the SLR 8.9 Carbon comes with eyelets. The ones on the inside of the rear dropouts are hardly noticeable when not in use and those on the outside of the fork legs aren't a whole lot more conspicuous. Subtle, then, but invaluable for year-round riding in the UK.
I've been riding the SLR 8.9 Carbon in a 58cm. This one comes with a 570mm effective top tube (the measurement if the top tube was horizontal rather than sloping), a 580mm effective seat tube (again, assuming the top tube was horizontal) and a 160mm head tube. The head angle is 73 degrees and the seat angle is 73.5 degrees. The stack height (the vertical distance from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube) is 582mm and the reach (the horizontal distance between those points) is 392mm.
Divide the stack by the reach and you get 1.48 which is exactly the same as you get with Boardman's high level SLR Endurance 9.9. The geometry is identical. It's not nearly as relaxed as something like a Specialized Roubaix, though, where the 58cm model has a stack/reach figure of 1.67. Boardman's SLR Race, on the other hand, has a lower stack and a longer reach, putting you into a more aggressive riding position. The top and the bottom of all this number talk is that this is a performance-minded geometry but it's more relaxed than that of a full-on race bike. It splits the difference between a traditional race bike and an endurance bike. You feel like you're riding in an efficient position and the chances are that you're not going to get an ache in your back or a crick in your neck 10 miles down the road from trying to hold it.
GROUPSET AND GEARING
The SLR 8.9 Carbon is built up with a Shimano Tiagra groupset, aside from those Tektro R315 long arm brakes that I mentioned. Tiagra might lack the prestige of Shimano's higher level groupsets (it sits fourth in the hierarchy behind Dura-Ace, Ultegra and 105) but it just works. Okay, it's a 10-speed rather than an 11-speed system but you don't particularly notice that difference in use; at least, I don't. You just adjust to these things.
You get a compact chainset (50/34-tooth) and a 12-28t cassette here which will probably suit most. I guess that some people might prefer an 11-32t cassette or even 11-34 to make things easier on the toughest hills. Handily, Boardman has specced the GS version of the Tiagra rear derailleur here so going for larger sprockets would be a relatively straightforward swap.
WHEELS AND TYRES
I wouldn't say that Boardman's SLR alloy wheels are anything to get particularly excited about but they've done a decent job over the past few weeks. After a good few hundred miles the front one is still perfectly true – bang on – while the rear one is near as damn it too. That's a good sign. It means that the wheels probably won't need much attention for a long time. The rims are tubeless ready, although the 700 x 25 Vittoria Rubino tyres aren't, so you'll need to swap them over if you want to go down that route. These tyres aren't especially lightweight or supple but they do offer durability and avoid flats pretty well thanks to a puncture protection layer.
Interestingly, Boardman offers the SLR 8.9 Alloy at exactly the same price: £1,000. The main differences are that you get an alloy frame (you worked that out for yourself, right?) – it's triple butted 6061 aluminium alloy – and a Shimano 105 11-speed groupset, which is a level higher than the SLR 8.9 Carbon's Tiagra. You also get a Fizik Antares saddle rather than Boardman's own. The tube profiles aren't exactly the same as those of the SLR 8.9 Carbon that I've been riding but the frames are recognisably from the same family. Smooth welding gives a carbon look. I'd guess that most people are going to be tempted by the lure of carbon, but who knows? We've not reviewed the SLR 8.9 Alloy so we can't comment on the relative performance.
The Giant Contend SL 1 that we did review here on road.cc is similar to the SLR 8.9 Alloy in that you get an alloy frame and a mainly Shimano 105 groupset, although you get a cheaper chainset and Tektro R540 brakes. The Specialized Allez Elite is also £999, it's also built around an aluminium frame, and it's also built up with a largely Shimano 105 groupset (with a Praxis groupset and Tektro brakes).
You need to decide whether you'd prefer the higher level groupset of any of these three bikes or a carbon frame. That's down to you, clearly. What I would say is that I'd consider the Boardman SLR 8.9 Carbon to be more upgradeable. It could certainly handle higher level components if you're likely to add them as and when the various parts wear out.
The Boardman SLR 8.9 Carbon is a really good road bike, particularly because the frameset is an absolute winner. Add in a reliable Shimano Tiagra groupset, no-nonsense finishing kit and the ability to fit mudguards easily and this is a bike that'll give you a ton of enjoyment all year round.
Really impressive road bike that's built around a corker of a frameset, and the price is very good too.
Road.cc July 2018 - Full Review